I realize, by this point, that all this thought-sharing might seem more like a glorified blog-turned-book, but it’s not. I’m writing all of this just for you because I know that you’re tired of the blogs written by sort-of interesting people who think that they are worth knowing about and just want to assure themselves that they have an awesome for-show life that is worth holding together (even if it’s pathetic in real life). And they might very well have a great life and might in fact be worth knowing, but blogs sometimes end up taking the form of too much information (TMI) and of doing double duty as a family update resource for relatives and close friends.
It’s all whatever, right, but I’m writing you because I’m writing you. About this. I might accidentally do TMI as is my tendency, but it’s not because I’m also trying to check off the list to send updates about my family. I’m checking one thing off the list and one thing only, and that is to write. Because of the fact that I feel that I have learned important lessons in this journey called stay-at-home motherhood and housewivery, I would feel remiss if I kept it all to myself. I could, but it just wouldn’t be right.
I think that some of us walk a rocky road so that we can help someone else walk one that’s not so rocky. I offer to you, as an act of goodwill, my road and its rocks and the heart that it shaped. I’m not being as transparent as I could be about what I’ve been through, but no one said I had to share all the fine details. Plus, you’d accuse me of writing fiction. (Perhaps that is already the case – isn’t it a contradiction of terms to say that a woman who is a stay-at-home mom and housewife is also joyful?)
In any case, would it ease your mind to know how I do it? Like, in straight linear form? Or would it ruin the mystery? Like, maybe I’m going to tell us that there’s no such thing and that it’s all in our head. (That would be a good way to put it, except that I am joyful about it all now after having been through very un-joyful times in it. I found my way through, and you can do it, too. It might not happen for you the way it did for me, but it will happen, nonetheless, if you truly understand that becoming joyful about it all (which is indeed a process) is the secret to everything. The joy is the reward for sticking with it and hanging in there and working stuff out. It’s the prize we know exists but can’t quite see yet.)
Before I get to that list, I want to clarify how joy is both the “secret” of getting through the day-to-day and the prize. It is the prize, and it is also the drive. It’s a two-for-one. Joy helps get you through one more day, and it is also waiting for you at the end of working through the tough stuff. It sometimes takes a while to figure out that joy can be a helpful companion while we are yet working through things – we think that having the day be conflict-free is the key to feeling good about the day, as if having a no-conflict day was the goal. Not only is that not the goal, it’s unrealistic to think that way. Conflict will always be around as long as we are all autonomous individuals. It may decrease in frequency and intensity as we learn the skills we need to deal with it, but it won’t entirely go away as long as we’re an active, involved parent (which is code for effective and self-reflective, not hovering or smothering or indulging).
Conflict is what has the potential to build character. One of the goals of effective parenting as I see it is to be able to have a day of whatever is in it (let it be racked with conflict if it will) and yet respond with grace, poise, composure, and confidence. And even a little humor if you dare. It might not be totally fun to you to have to deal with the content of the day, but you’ll at least be able to get through it okay with little to no hard feelings between you and your child. That’s the goal if there has to be one.
(Effective “discipline” – I like calling it guidance or direction — by the way, doesn’t mean that there needs to be ill-will between parent and child or any kind of hurt imposed in the process. I think that’s an awful falsehood that has fallen down through the generations that I think needs to be exposed outright. Simply addressing things with your child in respectful but honest conversation has a powerful enough effect on its own. Following through with natural, logical, and reasonable consequences is the second tool in the “discipline” box that I would consider a must-have for “good” “discipline.” Blame, guilt, and shame have no place in the parent-child relationship; they are not parenting strategies whatsoever, contrary to what some people may think.)
So back to this list. It seems so silly to give one because everyone is different and will have different priorities. Also, being list-bound is the opposite of how to become joyful because joyfulness requires a certain element of freedom about it. But I guess I can give a few practical pointers. These are very basic. We all know what they are going to be, which is why I am still reluctant to do any form of a list. It’s too tempting to just skip to the list without thinking about anything.
Stay-at-home motherhood and housewife-dom involves way more than just a checklist. This is a way of life, a way of being. A mindset that is cultivated. A state of heart that is specific to your family and home. To boil it all down to 10 Things That Will Make You a Great Mom and Wife is a bit juvenile, and it completely misses the point to the whole journey concept. So I won’t be framing it like that, but I think how I’d like to present the items is in categories of Actions and Attitudes.
I’ll start with some Actions because they are the “do” and may be more straightforward and “doable” at first if you truly don’t know where to start or how to increase your space in the day for potential effectiveness.
Then I’ll give some Attitudes because these are more “over time” oriented. These mindsets are developed in the long-term, but they can be helpful in the short term by just keeping them in mind (grammatical/linguistic/philosophical question: can a person keep a mind-set in mind?).
I’m giving a few “Samples” in each category to keep things simple. Also, it just seems awfully pretentious when someone gives an exhaustive list of anything. The point is to be who you are, not be like anyone else. And all of these things that I say might not apply to you at all because we are different. But perhaps something will spark an idea in you. Isn’t that the point to this?
A Sample of Actions
Get up before everyone else, if possible. What’s tricky here is the “if possible” part. With babies and small children, they wake up often and early, so sleep for the mommy is in short supply. But if you can muster enough strength to get out of bed before anyone else is awake, this will provide you with very valuable time to start the day in peace, brush your teeth with two available hands, get a head start on the housework, and have some time to yourself. All of these things could be sub-points. They are that important. (It’s not the earth shaking things that make the difference between the joyful women at home and those who are joyless – it’s the basic, logical things that make the difference, things like feeding yourself as well as your children, taking a break when you are tired, and humming a song while you work.)
Do a little bit every day, if possible. This goes for everything. Most of (if not all of) the housework ends up falling on us since we are the self-designated stay-at-home mom and housewife. That’s just the way it goes. It might not be “fair,” but remember that what is “fair” isn’t always “equal.” There are some huge tradeoffs to being in charge of the housework, and one of those tradeoffs is that we get to determine when and how it’s all done. With daily housework like dishes and laundry and meals and tidying, doing it sooner than later will prevent the inevitable (and literal and figurative) pile-up. With the household cleaning like vacuuming and bathrooms and sheets and kitchen-related tasks, doing one (or a part of one) of these things each day keeps things manageable and helps you to know that things are clean, for the most part and in general terms.
Smile, if possible. It can be difficult to even put forth the effort that is needed to scowl, but by consciously smiling whenever you can gather the strength to do so, you are reminding yourself that it is all going to be okay and that we will all get through this together. Showing teeth is optional, even. A light grin helps to keep the mood light and positive. It’s far easier to prevent a low mood (and even to get out of one at its onset) than to recover from a low mood once it has set in. Remember, too, though, that denial, avoidance, and cover-up help you not in the least, so if something is bothering you, then address it directly and then move on with things.
Give eye contact, if possible. Looking at your children and husband (and pets) in the eye when talking or listening to them is an easy way to make space for joy, to sense things about them and respond to them more readily, to show that you are interested in them, and to show them that they are important to you. Sometimes we can’t give eye contact when we’re right in the middle of doing something else, but if we create the general habit of giving eye contact when we can, then we are helping to create a culture of acknowledgement in our home that will remain even during those times when we can’t give eye contact.
A Sample of Attitudes
I want my children to feel free to be themselves and to be children. When a child is in a good place in their life, they are full of energy, life, joy, creativity, curiosity, initiative, cooperation, eagerness, and interest. Happy children talk a lot, tell stories, smile, laugh, sing songs, dance, play games, interact with others, and choose activities to do that they enjoy – all on their own without a lot of grown-up assistance. If you are not sure if your children feel that freedom that they need in order to be the unique individual that they are and also to be the child that their age currently reflects, then try to more closely tune yourself in to them. Slow down your pace a bit, observe them more intently, and listen to what they say. Being overly critical with children will shut them down, so let your relationship with them and the environment of your home be loving, open, and balanced, with generous amounts of encouragement, praise, listening, understanding, practice, and second chances.
I want my husband to feel comfortable at home, around me, and around our children. It’s okay to do things for your husband. This doesn’t make you a servant or the maid. This makes you caring, and it shows that you are devoted to him and to making his living environment as enjoyable as reasonably possible. In addition to doing simple things for him, talk to him in a pleasant manner, and show interest in his work. Remember, too, that the time he has with his and your children is abbreviated due to working outside the home, so make the effort, if you are able, to do as much of the grunge work as you can so that he can just focus on being with the kids. (If he has interest in/takes initiative with/is agreeable to doing things like changing diapers, feeding babies, preparing meals, wiping noses/faces/hands, and assisting with potty training, then he will of course reap the reward of bonding better with his children – but this is something that he needs to conclude on his own and for himself, not something that needs to come from you. We already know why our kids need us and want to be around us so much — because we do so much for them and do it willingly.)
I want my children and husband to be well-cared for and to feel my love for them. Make breakfast, pack those lunches, and prep dinner with an extra scoop of love. There is something about having a meal made for you that lets you know you’re loved. Treat your children and your husband (and all living things in your home like cats, dogs, and plants) with kindness, gentleness, tenderness, and great care. Listen to how your voice sounds, and be aware of how your actions come off. Let the way that you are and the way that you live be a warmth to their soul, a calmness to their life, and a treasure to their heart. This doesn’t mean that you hide your unhappiness with a façade of joy. If you are unhappy with your life, then make every effort to figure out why. And then do something about it. We have the best jobs in the world with the freedom and the respect and the opportunities that many of the women and mothers and wives that went before us did not have. If you want to be this and do this, you can. But if you really don’t, then don’t. Your children will love you all the same, and so will your husband. You must understand that if it is yourself that you cannot love unless you live one way or another, then this is something that can be reversed. Take the steps you need to take in order for you to have the self-acceptance and self-love that you deserve to have.
I want my home to look like someone lives here and cares about it. Personal style and fashion matter, but sometimes we can get so carried away with having things look “new” and “modern” and “hip” that we forget some of the basics when it comes to creating a homey environment. Without purchasing a single new thing, we can spruce up the outside and inside of our homes relatively simply just by keeping our eyes open and our sleeves rolled up. This is mainly in regards to the curb appeal/yardwork maintenance (like de-weeding, sweeping the walkways and door steps, pruning the decorative trees and bushes, and other grounds keeping type of stuff that falls to you) and in regards to the interior management of the house (factors like cleanliness, tidiness, de-clutteriness, and organization). Seasonal work applies as well, such as shoveling snow, raking leaves/pine needles, and spreading mulch. (It’s all part of owning a house; consider these responsibilities a privilege to have.) The heart matters more than looks (which is true in life and love, as well as in housekeeping), so try to reject the tendency to make things “perfect” or “the best,” and focus mainly on doing a solidly good “good job” with a bent for excellence.